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Skidmore College

What to major in and why

January 11, 2017
majors kids
What are these students—Mike Koshakow, Morgan Chanon-Smith, Keenan 
Rachel Sprague, Jonathan Hernandez, Amanda Riley, and Jack Mullin 
—each majoring in?
Check your answers at the bottom of this story.

Would it surprise you that many successful college students begin college thinking they will major in one academic area and end up changing their minds, sometimes several times and sometimes quite dramatically? Or that many first-years are just plain undecided? Their academic journeys are often interesting and instructive, even inspiring.

Take history major Alexis Traussi '17, who was pretty sure she would be a business major, due in part to her parents’ success in the food and hotel industries. But her first-year seminar, "Famine, Warfare, and Plague in 14th-Century London," taught by historian Erica Bastress-Dukehart, led her to reconsider, and then a 200-level course with "impressive history majors" clinched the deal. Three years later Traussi's postgraduation plan is to pursue museum studies or a Ph.D. in history.

Jack Mullin ’17 entered Skidmore thinking he'd major in English, but he ended up choosing music. Mullin, who ultimately plans to do freelance recording and audio work while honing his own craft, had an aha! moment when he realized he spent most of his free time playing music with friends in bands and ensembles. "Make sure you love what you do, and that you value your craft over anything else," he says.

The summer before new students arrive at Skidmore, the Office of the First-Year Experience provides this advice: "If you do not yet know what your major will be, don't worry. Many entering students are undecided about their areas of academic interest, and we encourage all students to explore a variety of majors and minors during the first few semesters. . . . A liberal arts education encourages the evolution of academic and career interests, and it is not uncommon for students to change majors several times to reflect their new interests." 

By those definitions, Traussi and Mullin could be considered poster children for the liberal arts, so it's little wonder they volunteered to represent their fields at a "Majors Showcase" this fall (full list below).

majors showcase
Nearly 50 juniors and seniors representing their majors at Career Development's
"Majors Showcase" in October

In fact, a 2016 study found that 75–85% of college students switch majors before they graduate, and that those who switch in the fall of their junior year have even higher rates of graduation than those who declare a major in their first year. The takeaway: Students who change and evolve can really get the most of their four-year experience.

For Anh Vu Nguyen ’17, switching from biology and math to computer science and math flowed easily. A CS intro course, a requirement for math majors, struck a chord with him. Says Nguyen, who plans to be a software engineer, preferably at Microsoft: "I really enjoyed programming and the process of problem-solving. I was also enamored by the possibility that comes with computer science of always being at the frontier of the field, as technologies change daily." 

Amanda Riley ’17, seeking a career in financial services with multinational companies, already knew she wanted to major or minor in business. But it was her plan to study abroad in Madrid as a junior, prompting her to continue studying Spanish, that set her on her future course. She says, "In my first semester, I enrolled in the MB 107 business intro course and a Spanish grammar course, and loved both! I also recognized the crossover between the two disciplines. In business, it's important to have a globalized view of the economy and an awareness of cultural differences. And the same critical thinking skills essential to learning a second language are at play when learning the language of accounting, finance, and economics." 

Roughly 20% of Skidmore students are double majors, and 45% add a minor.

Lisa Moran ’17 had no idea what she wanted to study, and she ended up majoring in both anthropology and Spanish and minoring in art. As she applies for research grants to do documentary film and photography in Colombia next year, she has this advice: "Keep taking classes that interest you, even if they don't seem related, because they will eventually lead you to study something you really care about!"

Whether it's a first-year seminar in London, choosing music because you love it, an eye-opening required course, a blend of two seemingly disparate fields, or the faith to focus on whatever interests you, there is no one path to discovering your passion.

But owning your education and taking responsibility for navigating its journey do seem important. As Jonathan Ogunleye ’17, who abandoned psychology in favor of social work, advises, "Don't be stuck on one vision. It's OK to look at other things that interest you. Never feel pressured to major in something just because you are good at it or because you were told to major in it. It's your choice and your life. You have the most control over it."

Ogunleye's advice gets reinforcement from the Forbes article "Six Reasons Why Your College Major Doesn't Matter", in which Ashley Stahl, a political science grad turned career coach, says: "Whatever you choose to study, make your own personal development the true goal of your undergraduate career. Use your undergraduate years to learn about yourself—your unique brilliance and your passions—not to learn everything there is to know about the branches and functions of foreign governments that don't interest you in the belief that doing so will land you a job in politics." Citing an Association of American Colleges and Universities study, Stahl adds that "Ninety-three percent of employers believe that critical thinking, communications, and problem-solving skills are more important than a job candidate's undergraduate field of study." 

For an overview on the 40+ majors that Skidmore offers, click here.

For a breakdown on the most popular majors and minors at Skidmore over the past 10 years, see pages 31–32 of the 2016 Fact Book

For a deeper dive into the stories and advice of students at the "Majors Showcase," click here


2016 Majors Showcase Participants:

Anthropology: Kayla Provencher, Zoe Blum (English)

Art: Jonathan Hernandez, Rachel Rosenfeld, Sarah Donovan

Art History: Rachel Sprague

Asian Studies: Sarah Maddrey

Biology: Ketan Yerneni, Noelle Foden-Vencil, Lucas Calzini, Makhzuna Khudoynazarova, Wenhui Zhaor, Keenan Bartlett, Eleanor Ritter

Business: Jingling Zhang

Chemistry: Arlene Hernandez, Nathanael Rehmeyer, Hilary Ramirez

Classics: Sophie heath, Benjamin Cail

Computer Science: Ahn Vu Nguyen

Economics: Julia Epstein, Brooks Benner

Education Studies: Benjamin Marks

English: Ben Doolittle (Computer Science), Rose O’Connor, Morgan Chanon-Smith

Environmental Studies and Science: Sarah Hooghuis

Exercise Science: Ian Gregory-Davis, Ryan Beierle

French: Sara Pion

Gender Studies: Louise Sullivan, Isabelle Alley

History: Alexis Traussi, Josh Wagner (Political Science)

International Affairs: Dorothy Parsons

Mathematics: Chen Lon (Computer Science)

Music: Jack Mullin

Neuroscience: Sarah Wilensky, Alara Akyatan

Philosophy: Jon Weinstein

Physics: Michael Koshakow (Dartmouth program), Wendy Collins, Henry Thoreen

Political Science: Jason Sutherland

Psychology: Mariam Vahradyan, Kester Woof, Ella Amaral Lavoie, Becca Lipstein

Religious Studies: Gabe Snyder

Self-Determined Majors: Michael Stein, Langa Bakhuluma-Ncube

Social Work: Jonathan Ogunleye, Maya Reyes

Sociology: Ashly Matyas, Byron Smith

Spanish: Lisa Moran, Lauren Fortunato, Amanda Riley

Theater: Rebecca Gracey

Photo-quiz answer:
Mike, Morgan, Keenan, Rachel, Jonathan, Amanda, and Jack are majoring in: physics, English, biology, art history and business, studio art, business and Spanish, and music


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